ANNAPOLIS — Regulations requiring new Maryland construction to use the best technology in septic systems would help clean up the Chesapeake Bay, supporters told lawmakers Tuesday, but critics said the proposal by Gov. Martin O’Malley’s administration is a back-door effort to implement a plan already rejected by the Legislature.
Robert Summers, secretary of the Maryland Department of the Environment, told members of the Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review that the regulations are part of an effort to reduce nitrogen released into the polluted bay by 11.6 million pounds by 2026.
Summers said the septics law, combined with the regulation, will equal a reduction in nitrogen produced by about 31,000 households.
“So each year, this will reduce the equivalent of the discharge of nitrogen from the city of Cambridge,” Summers told the panel.
He noted that the western half of Garrett County in western Maryland and a part of Cecil County will be exempt from the regulations.
But Republican critics said the requirement would add about $8,000 to the cost of a new home — a serious concern that they say should be addressed by the full General Assembly, not just a regulatory agency in the executive branch. Lawmakers rejected a statewide requirement for best available technology in 2009, and critics also noted that the provision could have been considered in the septics bill during this year’s regular session.
“If indeed you wanted legislative approval, come to the table, go to the House, go to the Senate and get its approval,” said Sen. E.J. Pipkin, R-Cecil. “You know what? The department chose not to include this (best available technology) provision for statewide implementation in a bill that was again very controversial, again very far reaching.”
Summers said the department was following through with recommendations made by a state task force. He also said the department made clear during testimony on the septics legislation its intention to move forward with the regulation, because the department had the legal authority to do so.
The committee can vote on the regulations as soon as next week. If the panel approves, the Maryland Department of the Environment, which is proposing them, will consider public comments until Aug. 15 before deciding on the final regulations.
Separately, the joint panel of House and Senate lawmakers is weighing proposed regulations by the Maryland Department of Agriculture that are aimed at keeping manure and livestock out of Maryland streams.